Tuesday, May 26, 2009


#146, Houston Street, NYC

Another perk to living in Brooklyn - apart from harboring crushes on local street artists - is that you also get to spot your favorite typographers out walking their dogs. And when you spend as much time as I do collecting type, this is a really neat occurrence, to witness your niche enthusiasms dovetailing neatly with another's, entirely without the other's knowledge that you are somehow accomplices in the same game. It's a little disconcerting, too, because although someone might be flattered to be steamrolled with your "OMG, I totally saw you in Helvetica!" greeting, he might also prefer to have a nice morning stroll to himself without being accosted by a fellow font freak.

Mr. Tobias Frere-Jones, the typographer in question, has been at the number-collecting game far longer than yours truly. I saw Frere-Jones speak about two years ago at a design blogging event called Postopolis and was fascinated by his description and slideshow of pictures of typeface on the buildings of New York. At the time of Postopolis two years ago, he'd basically - armed with a camera - combed over every single city block from the tip of lower Manhattan up to 14th Street, snapping examples of unusual and vernacular type. The very immensity of this project makes me swoon. It also makes me perfectly happy to feel no obligation to be any more completist than I already am, seeing as my Shackleton-like dash to the South Pole has already been conquested by a far more prepared Amundsen.

If you happened to see the outtakes at the end of the documentary Helvetica (I wrote about the film in more detail here), you would have glimpsed this very 146 on the screen of Frere-Jones's Mac. I like knowing there are others out there, other number paparazzi who can appreciate the tiny jewels in New York's bling-infested crown. And this 146 is a good one. Part functional-modernist decoration, part mod bathroom tile, it's eye catching on the sometimes tiresome artery of West Houston Street. And while there's nothing quite like the thrill of discovery, there's comfort in knowing there are others out there who enjoy the hunt every bit as much.


Adam said...

Strangely this is somewhat similar to the example from Paris I posted on my blog today - with a link through to yours!

Therese Cox said...

Very cool, Adam! These mosaics look like a very confused game of Tetris. They make me want to start doing colorful crossword puzzles. Thanks for the link and shout out. And congrats on #100.

Ray Gunn said...

What kind of dog does he have?

allospe one who suffers from a medical condition in which one is able to understand any language spoken to him but without being able to speak it himself

Pierre said...

I posted a drawing yesterday of a person who resided at the Yuma State Prison. His number was hand painted on a piece of paper and pinned to his shirt. What's interesting is how the numbers were done. Some one took the time to carefully do a cursive 2 with curls on each end. The style I think indicates the era.

Therese Cox said...

Ray, um, a white one? Shaggy and white, that's all I know. It didn't have serifs, in any case.

Pierre, that's a really chilling drawing. Thanks for sharing it. The ornate number pinned to the shirt makes it all the stranger. Makes you wonder who drew such an ornate number and why.

designslinger.com said...

great writing style - as always!

Jackie said...

Ray, I too was immensely curious as to what type of dog the typographer had.

anspholi- the overwhelming desire to crunch peanut shells between index finger and thumb-- with no desire to eat the peanut.

Therese Cox said...

Thanks, designslinger! And if y'all haven't clicked on that smiling yellow blob yet to see the sights, y'all should. It's a great site.

Jackie, I think that was an early Arthur Conan Doyle work: "The Curious Incident of the Typographer's Dog." To be followed by "Murder at the Foundry." Sadly, these never became as well-known as, say, "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Pity. I thought they were some of his best work.

Julie said...

fellow font freak
bling-infested jewel

must use either in a sentence by close of day.